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A farmer from Flagaman, St. Elizabeth, tends to his field of tomato and cantaloupe crops. Farms in the area are flourishing again following last year's bushfire, which resulted in millions of dollars in losses.
Photo: Okoye Henry

Farmers in the community of Flagaman, St. Elizabeth, have been on a steady road to recovery after a massive bush fire last year that razed more than 200 acres of farmlands, with $45 million in crops and farming equipment destroyed.

The blaze, which occurred in August of 2019, affected 47 farmers, who watched helplessly as their fields burned, with their hard work and investments destroyed in minutes.

Relief came swiftly in the weeks that followed for the affected men and women of the ‘bread basket’ parish. Now, nine months after that disastrous incident, the fields are flourishing again and farmers are breathing a sigh of relief and are saying thanks.

Secretary for the Flagaman’s Farmers Group, Veron Reynolds, tells JIS News that most persons have recovered through assistance from the Government and various private-sector entities.

Secretary for the Flagaman’s Farmers Group in St. Elizabeth, Veron Reynolds, shows off onion harvested from his farm, which has recovered from last August’s massive bush fire.

 

The Government provided close to $50 million worth of relief items, including seeds, fertiliser, water storage tanks, irrigation fixtures, hoses, and 30 truckloads of guinea grass to be used for mulching.

“They (the farmers) made good use of the assistance that they received, and with the growing of guinea grass for mulching, which is a key component in the whole farming activity, most farmers are now on their second and third crops,” says Mr. Reynolds.

He notes that irrigation water was also provided.

Mr. Reynolds, who was among the beneficiaries, tells JIS News that despite his best efforts, he could not save his five-acre farm where he planted guinea grass, onion, cantaloupe, watermelon, among other crops.

Onion crop flourishing on the farm of Secretary for the Flagaman’s Farmers Group, Veron Reynolds, following last year’s massive bush fire in the St. Elizabeth community.

 

He says that his water storage tanks, farming tools and other equipment were also destroyed.

Mr. Reynolds estimates his personal loss at close to $4 million but like other farmers from the area, he has since made a smooth recovery to maintain his livelihood and boost the agricultural sector.

Veteran farmer, Gerald Davis, has been singing praises for the assistance he received following the loss of his acre of cantaloupe.

“I had an acre of cantaloupe at that time and everything was burned right out. I lost over $500,000 or more. They were green and so nice. I felt disgusted, but I said to myself, ‘I will get going again’,” Mr. Davis tells JIS News.

He notes that the help has been “tremendous” and the farmers are grateful.

“People came on board and helped us, and to tell you the truth, I got back a nice crop after that and I don’t feel any way since the fire burned,” he says.

Mr. Davis is particularly appreciative about the soil analysis that was done subsequently to assist farmers in applying the necessary nutrients for the successful growing of crops.

The Flagaman’s Farmers Group is also thankful for the fire-prevention training that was carried out by Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) in a bid to prevent a reoccurrence of last year’s incident.

The JFB’s Divisional Commander for the St. Elizabeth Division, Senior Deputy Superintendent Winsome Grant, tells JIS News that 10 farmers have been trained, to date, in bush fire management.

“Some of farmers continue to stick to their old cultivation practices, such as slash and burn, so education and [training] will take away apathy, ignorance, carelessness and negligence.

“In the future, we will twin with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and will approach the Pesticides Control Authority to see how best we can merge our resources in further educating farmers,” Ms. Grant says.

She tells JIS News that the fire in Flagaman was thoroughly investigated to see what lessons could be learned and shared with other divisions across the country.

She notes that Commissioner of the JFB, Stewart Beckford, recently led a tour of the affected farms and donated two firefighting backpack pumps to the community.

A total of 10 backpack pumps were provided to vulnerable communities in St. Elizabeth and another 10 to Clarendon.

“We extended some to the community because, keep in mind that there are some areas where bush fires will pop up from time to time that the regular fire units cannot maneuver. So it (the equipment) will help us and also act as a community fire safety equipment for the farmers,” Ms. Grant points out.

Farmers in Flagaman believe that with the recovery of their farms and the training received, they are now better equipped to protect property and livelihoods.

“The training that has been done through the farming group and having this equipment will help us to attack fire more quickly,” Mr. Reynolds says.

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